Tuesday, June 3, 2008

News from the Costume Shop...

By Kim Dawson, Stitcher

We're down to the final days before full dress rehearsal and opening night, and with new costumes being constructed for two of the three ballets on the Russian program, the costume shop has shifted into overdrive and is a whirlwind of nearly round-the-clock activity!

As you've read in previous postings, the most significant costume build for this program and for OBT is for the world premiere of Yuri Possokhov's Raymonda. Since the end of January, I've been responsible for constructing 10 new tutu skirts for this ballet. At the end of last week, I felt a sense of accomplishment and melancholy as I took down the very last layer of tightly gathered and carefully ironed light blue tulle from the hangers, where layers and layers have hung from the ceiling in various stages of preparedness over the past several months.

About eight weeks ago, the construction process also began for the women's bodices, sleevettes and headpieces, the men's tunics and unitards, and the preparation of yards and yards of decorative gold lace and rhinestone trims. In these final days we're completing and stitching all of the elements together; gluing remaining rhinestones; sewing hooks, eyes and snaps; attaching trims to bodices and skirts; attaching bodices to tutu skirts; attaching sleeves to tunis, etc. And the results? Simply stunning...if we do say so ourselves!

Fun Facts:
  • Each Raymonda tutu skirt takes about 80 hours to construct -- not including trimming (decoration). A few photos (below) illustrate the process.
  • If all of the layers of un-gathered tulle and netting for a single Raymonda tutu skirt were placed end-to-end, they would stretch nearly 120 yards -- longer than a football field!
  • The longest single layer of the Raymonda tutu skirt is the "hoop" layer, which includes two overlapping pieces of tulle/netting that are about 60 feet long each, before gathering.
  • If all 10 layers of tulle and netting for the 10 blue Raymonda tutu skirts were laid out flat, they would cover an area of abotu 2500 square feet -- nearly 1.5 times the area of the Keller stage floor.
  • In total, the Raymonda costumes are trimmed with nearly 400 feet of gold lace and trim.
  • In total, more than 12,000 tiny rhinestones have been glued on one-by-one and more than 600 teardrop-shaped stones have been hand sewn on to the Raymonda costumes.

Photos of the Tutu-Making Process

PHOTO 1:  
The base that all of the tulle/netting layers are sewn on to consists of two pieces -- the basque (top) and the panty, which are carefully fitted to each dancer and then sewn together. Note, the safety pins indicate where the lowest layer of tulle should be sewn.

PHOTO 2:  
This is a piece of 60' long tulle for the hoop layer, which has been dyed the appropriate color and now needs to be ironed flat in order to be gathered.

Once the tulle/netting is ironed flat, it is run through the sewing machine using a special gathering foot.  After this, another gathering thread is zig-zagged on top of this gathering so that each piece can be gathered even more tightly to fit the appropriate space on the basque/panty.

The narrowest/bottom layer, before and after gathering.

Layer in the process of being ironed.

In the ironing process, each layer is pinned securely to the ironing board, and then sections are gathered tightly and then steamed/pressed.  It takes a full day to iron all the layers for a single tutu.

Some layers for two tutus, in various stages of preparedness.

To create the hoop layer, two gathered pieces are sewn onto a flat piece of netting, and a casing for the hoop is then created underneath. On the long/right side of the flat piece you can see the zig-zag over gathering threads which will be used to gather up and position this very-long-layer on the basque/panty.

PHOTO 9:  
The positioning for each layer is carefully measured and drawn. At the narrowest part (the front leg), ten tightly gathered layers must be sewn into a space of only about 2.5 - 3". Here you can see the 10th (bottom) layer is pinned on and ready to be sewn. After this, we pin and sew on the 1st (top) layer and continue working our way down, layer by layer.

PHOTO 10:  
The 3rd layer being sewn on. Six more layers to add!

PHOTO 11:  
The hoop layer (4th layer) has just been sewn on.

PHOTO 12:  
The final layer is being sewn on. Once this is complete, panty is sewn together at the back seam and the crotch, and each individual layer is sewn together at the center back.

PHOTO 13: 
Once all the layers have been sewn on, we tie-up the top three layers so that we can insert the hoop into the 4th layer.

PHOTO 14:  
The hoop is inserted into the casting. The size of the hoop helps determine the shape of the tutu -- smaller for more bell-shaped or larger for more flat.

PHOTO 15:  
Once the hoop is inserted and the gathers are spread out evenly around the tutu and ironed, it is secured with tying down to the 6th layer.

PHOTO 16:  
Lastly, each of the layers is secured with individually tied knots...layers 9-10 together, layers 7-8-9 together, etc.

PHOTO 17:  
All the layers are now tied and the tutu has gone from fluffy to flat. Now the tutu skirt is ready for decoration...on the top side, of course.

PHOTO 18:  
Here's a sneak peak at the tutu skirt and bodice decorations in progress.


  1. Wow, this in a phantastic description of the intensly laborous process that goes into a tutu. I, for one, will never see tutu´s that same I used too.

    Bravo, Kim!!

    Robert P.
    -- secret admirer ;)

  2. Kim -

    Great article and illustration of such a beautiful artistic element of the ballet. I'll be attending Saturday's matinée performance, via bike and hope to see you there. If not, I'm still thankful for understanding the costume process so I can fully appreciate the show.

    All my best,
    Jenn Adams

  3. Olá.Bom dia.Achei espetácular com todos os detalhes explicados.Obrigado pelo compartilhamento.Abraçõs.Nile.

  4. thank you for posting this step by step process with such great pictures and instruction. As a fledgling costumer for my daughter's ballet school, I appreciate you sharing your knowledge and experience!

  5. Gostaria de saber se não tem uma vaga na equipe, trabalho com filó, tule essas coisas e já fiz alguns vestidos de ballet só que usamos 3 camadas. Enfim, adoraria aprender mais sobre esse fantástico mundo do tutu.
    Me chamo Gerson, tenho 19 anos, sou Brasileiro, para mais informações entrem em contato com o seguinte e-mail: gerson_cromwell@hotmail.com

  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. How fantastic to see it up close. As a sewer of costume i love knowing all the processes involved, Amazing

  8. My ruffler foot keeps eating my tulle. Any tips on how to keep the gathering teeth from tearing it?

  9. exelente, bien explicado que arte que delicadeza!

  10. Gracias por este maravilloso tutorial. Mi pregunta es ¿que tipo de tejido o tela utilizan para la braga?

  11. Excellent process photos and description!

  12. Un laborioso trabajo para conseguir un hermoso tutú.

  13. Phenomenal!!!

    ♡ Dulce

  14. That was wonderful, I have always wanted to know how a tutu was made and this was a fabulous description.

  15. Thank you for this beautiful portrayal of art. Do you know where I could find a pattern to try and make one? I am certain it willl not be as grand, just something for my little girl... Thank you

  16. There are no picture? Really would love to have a look :)

  17. Please Please PLEASE replace the photos!!!

  18. Yes please reattach the photos. I was so excited to see the process.

  19. Again, could you PLEASE replace the photo's. It would be amazing to fully understand the components that go into such a intricate creation

  20. I am joining to the others to claim : pleaaase replace the photos ! It was so exiting to see this article ! Thank you !

  21. Please replace the photos!

  22. really most adorable and wonderful Ballet fledgling costumer for my daughter's ballet school. such a glad to visit this kind of useful info thanks for this blog.

    Rachel Withers Ballet Instructor in UK | Certified ballet instructors in UK

  23. Want to see the photos please? ???

    1. Interesante desearia ver las fotos del proceso tb son confecionista de vestuario de ballet

  24. Want to see the photos please? ???

  25. Por favor, insira as fotos novamente. Seria maravilhoso poder acompanhar

  26. I am reading your tutorial. It's almost like I do it, I have simplified the method. I'm a costume mistress and costume designer for NYSB New York State Ballet,rising to the most prestigious company in our area,and beyond. I do all of the tutus and pancake tutus. However time is of Essence. I have only 2mos. To do 12 snow girls,12 flower corps,& more principal dancers'. I know 18 hrs a day of this work can do. I cannot veiw your photos unfortunately. But I'm sure they're perfect. I did the Nutcracker,that is. Rochester, NY.what we do is just a handful of us in the world!! We're unique!! Katherine Johnson's is my Artistic Director and Founder of Ballet Prestige & NYSB,Respectfully. Thank You!!

  27. Dear Kim,
    I am hoping to view the photos to be able to see what you are describing but unable to?

  28. How/where may I view the photos of this process?

  29. I would love to be able to see the photo's and process. Is there a way to get the photo's to open?

  30. Can't see any photos or find a way to upload, is there a way to see them please.. 🤷🏻‍♀️🤷🏻‍♀️

  31. ‏‎ع وضعك يانجم 😎

  32. unable to see images; love the instructions!
    grandmother who sews